I wash my hands often. I watch the news, and like everyone else Ive become a coronavirus expert. Although Im part of the high-risk age group, Im not particularly worried.
What I am worried about is that, at 62, Im running out of time to do all the things I want to do and theres still so much on my list.
Counting life in days (Ive been on this earth for 22,630 of them) makes a birthday seem less consequential, as just another day among thousands. However, as we age, and despite all the things weve accumulated throughout our lives jobs, vacations, homes, books, our friends and family were still led to one inevitable conclusion: We have less time.
According to the Spanish writer Vicente Verdú, time has become one of the worlds true luxuries in the 21st century the time, as he suggests, to do nothing but watch a child playing, free of the anxiety of the clock; the time to live in the moment.
So I have taken Verdús advice. These days, I try to waste as little time as possible.
Or, to put it another way: I waste time only with the people I love. Thats why, as we approach the end of our days, we tend to live with an intensity and urgency we never had as teenagers. The author Isabel Allende, who has been nothing less than a guardian angel to me over the years and has given me some of the best advice of my life, told me a few weeks ago that she had remarried. For her, falling in love at 77 was surprisingly similar to falling in love at 18. Its all the same; you feel the same anxiety, the same longing to be with that person, she told me. Only you want to move more quickly and dont have the patience to pick silly fights.
I understand exactly how Isabel feels. For almost a decade now, Chiqui, my partner, has made my life more meaningful, filling it with love and wonderful memories. Our evening chats in the kitchen are times we set aside for essential things, times apart from everything else. And as each day passes, I find I have less time for everything else.
I dont answer my cellphone every time it rings. But I always pick up always when my children, Paola and Nicolás, call. To me, half of being a parent is simply being there for your kids. When Paola was born, a friend told me that she would save me, and that has absolutely been the case. A childs birth provides you with another level of understanding: From that moment onward, you know what is important and what is not. Nico and Pao brought order, meaning and joy into my life. Every time I can, I hug them and tell them I love them. And they make my day when they reply, I love you too, Dad.
I suppose my obsession with time is an acquired habit. But it really becomes a problem when you start running out of it. I am an agnostic. I truly have no clue what will happen when I die. I dont know if I will get to see my father, whom I miss more with each passing day and for whom I have so many questions, or if I will see my grandfather Miguel, or my good friend Félix, or my dog Sunset and my cat Lola.
Perhaps that deep uncertainty is the reason I pester guests on my TV show with so many questions about our mortality. Are you afraid of death? I recently asked the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who is also an agnostic. Well, there is a certain unease the more you feel that decisive moment approaching, he replied with a smile. But I think that converting at the very last moment would be extremely distasteful.
I truly admire people who believe in the afterlife. Without all that annoying existential anguish, they probably lead more relaxed lives. In any case, I imagine heaven is pretty overcrowded these days, with billions of souls wandering around, given that 2.5 million years have passed since animals much like modern humans first appeared, according to Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Heaven must not be a particularly exclusive club.
In the face of all these unknowns, theres not much I can do but hold on tight to the present and make the most of it.
I cant complain. I enjoy my life as an immigrant, a journalist and a dad. These three facets of my identity help me stand firm in the world, with a sense of rebelliousness and a healthy suspicion of authority. Thats the best way to stay young.
Besides, not many other people can boast of having lived 22,630 days and also having a mother who has lived more than 31,000 days. That is a huge privilege, and I am grateful for it. Every month or so, I take a couple of days off to escape the unstoppable news cycle and jump on a flight to Mexico City to visit my mom. I remind her of what she has forgotten, and she reminds me of what really matters. When we say our goodbyes, we do so as if for the last time. Of course, we always hope to meet again and so far, we always have.
Turning a year older is an undeniable accomplishment. In these times of constant turmoil of ever-spreading coronavirus, rising authoritarianism and increasingly pernicious social media surviving one more day to add one more year to your life is nothing short of heroic. After all, growing old is far better than the alternative.